New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services to Step Down – Wall Street Journal

Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio is expected to begin her new job in early August after an initial rollout of NYC Care. Photo: Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

Herminia Palacio, the New York City deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, announced Monday that she will leave her post next month to take a position at a leading research and policy think tank focused on sexual and reproductive rights.

Dr. Palacio, 57 years old, is set to become the chief executive and president of the New York-based Guttmacher Institute. In an interview Monday, she said that the opportunity to lead a major public policy organization are “not summoned on demand.”

Dr. Palacio said she “felt like it was the right moment” to lead an organization focused on reproductive justice, especially as several states have introduced antiabortion bills.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Dr. Palacio to her role in early 2016. Her portfolio has included overseeing homelessness, health care and the city’s antipoverty work, as well as public health issues like measles, opioid overdoses and teen smoking.

Mr. de Blasio said in a statement that Dr. Palacio took on one of the most difficult jobs in the city to expand opportunities for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“Dr. Palacio is now ready for her next challenge, and I’m extremely grateful for her service to this Administration. While she will be dearly missed, I’m glad to know she is leaving us to join a critical fight in protecting reproductive rights,” he said.

Dr. Palacio is expected to begin her new job in early August after an initial rollout of NYC Care, the city’s enhanced health care initiative that will provide greater preventive care to all New Yorkers through the city’s public hospitals. She said that initiative is among her biggest accomplishments as is work to fight the opioid epidemic.

She began her tenure at a time when the de Blasio administration struggled to address the city’s homeless crisis of nearly 60,000 New Yorkers, the majority of them families. As of last week, the number of total people in shelter per city data was 58,239.

The shelter population has been stabilized, said Dr. Palacio, which she described as “incremental but critically important” progress. The city’s homelessness “reflects an increasing divide in terms of economic income and people’s ability to afford rent. Those are things that are only partially within the purview of government,” she said.

Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, a New York-based advocacy group, said that the claim by the de Blasio administration that the city is doing enough to address the homelessness crisis underscores how low they have set their sights.

“Until the Mayor steps up and commits to building at least 24,000 new units of affordable housing for homeless individuals and families and stops touting ‘incremental’ changes, this crisis will continue to grow. ‘Stabilization’ must not and cannot be the goal,” she said.

Dr. Palacio, who is from the Bronx, said she would miss serving her fellow New Yorkers and being part of an administration with a progressive agenda. However, she joked, “I won’t miss having two phones on 24/7, all the time.”

Write to Melanie Grayce West at melanie.west@wsj.com